Complacency Is Your Enemy

Sleeping Puppy by Richard Stowey

Don't get too comfortable - there's always room for improvement.

My philosophy in life has always been one of optimism. The bedrock of this optimism is largely a well-developed sense of appreciation of everything I have. I understand that life is fleeting and that I am beyond fortunate not only to live in a developed, first-world nation where something like access to clean drinking water is a given let alone the fact that I’m alive at all.

This sense of gratefulness is like a search lamp, the brilliant beam of which I can shine on my problems to view them in a proper light – a light that reveals how petty it really is for me to bothered by most misfortunes. Unfortunately, the brighter the light the darker the shadow it casts and that sense of appreciation is no different. That dark shadow is complacency.

Complacency is the direct nemesis of ambition. Unfortunately, it seems now so many people who advocate being grateful and not taking what you have for granted also push its poisonous side-effect as if it were an added virtue.

I’ve heard it a million times, “Why worry about working so hard for more? You should be grateful for what you have.” or maybe “Don’t be greedy, be happy where you are with what you’ve got.”

On the surface, this kind of sounds like good advice. Half of it is. You should be happy with what you’ve got and not take it for granted. You also shouldn’t let it bother you too much if you don’t have something you want.

The problem is, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still try to get it.

Let’s say you’re stuck in a dead end job that makes you miserable. Those people would tell you you’re selfish for wanting more than that and should just accept it and be happy. That is ridiculous. Taking that advice and embracing complacency won’t make you happy and will just leave you with a mountain of regrets on your deathbed. Not a good idea.

I say that yes, you should be grateful even for your dead end job and you shouldn’t let it destroy your mood. However, and this is the key part, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to improve your situation. It just means that while you try to improve your situation you shouldn’t allow the current one to bother you so much.

You should always, always be trying to improve some area of your life. I’ve said this several times before and it’s not going to be the last time you hear it from me, but the truth is none of us have very long to live. You shouldn’t just be happy for every moment you get, you should also be trying to make the next one even better.

In the end, it comes down to finding the right balance. If you’re not grateful enough, you can burn away your whole life always trying to get and do more and never have actually had the chance to enjoy any of it. If you’re too complacent, you can settle into a life that ultimately will never make you as happy as it could have. Either way your short flash of existence is squandered and that is a tragedy in the strongest sense of the word.

It’s like the saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” That suggests you should just take what life gives you. You should take what life gives you but you should also add some work to it to make what life gives you even better. I say, “When life gives you lemons, go to the store and buy some sugar and vodka and sell that lemonade so you can go get something you actually want.”

Of course, my version doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well…

Have anything to add to my mild rant about complacency? Let us know!

Conquering the Fear of Failure

Flying by FelixTsao

Failing isn't really as scary as it looks.

Fear of failure is a seriously crippling thing. It’s also deeply rooted in our subconsciouses. How fun. Fear of failure makes us freeze out on stage and forget all of our lines. Fear of failure makes us not commit to things, to never get started in the first place or – worst of all – to purposefully sabotage projects that are going well before they really get going.

I have no science to back this claim up, but I would still bet that if you went around and asked everyone why they don’t quit their job and follow their dreams, why they haven’t sold all their junk and run off to travel the world or probably even why they aren’t trying to improve themselves that the most common answer would be – fear of failure.

Being afraid of failing is a natural thing. That being said, it’s still not a good thing. It keeps us from going where we want to go and doing what we want to do. It makes us miserable, anxious and in a lot of cases depressed. I’m sure someone smarter than I could devise a way to turn those around and harness fear of failure to make it work for them.

The Problem with Being Scared

In some cases fear is a good thing. If you’re in danger you need to know about it. Fear keeps us from doing a lot of really dangerous, crazy things. The thing is the world’s a much safer place than it was 50,000 years ago (not that I’m complaining), but our brains don’t know it yet.

Your brain can’t really distinguish the feeling it gets from turning a corner and finding an irate mother grizzly and the feeling it gets from being in the spotlight in front of a huge crowd. In one of those cases, that fear response is appropriate. In the other, not so much.

When that fear response is triggered, as I’m sure you already know, your body goes into ol’ fight-or-flight mode. That means a big dump of performance enhancing stress hormones into your brain, adrenaline and cortisol being two big players. This big release of hormones and neurotransmitters is fantastic if you need to run from a smilodon, pick up a car or fight off an assailant. They are not so fantastic when you’re trying to remember your lines, or get the motivation up to follow your dreams.

On top of those direct fight-or-flight triggers, fear of failure often grows into a sort of general dread about what might happen. Dreading something means it creates a lot of stress, stress means lots of cortisol and lots and lots of constant cortisol release means you’ll start feeling really run down before long.

That feeling of dread also causes us to do really stupid things. How many things do you wish you could do, but are too scared to do because you’re afraid of failing? How often have you passed up a really fantastic opportunity just because you didn’t think you were good enough, or you were worried it wouldn’t work out?

I have even known someone personally who had planned to start her own business, put tons of work into it, even gone and done pitches for prospective clients, but when inquiries started rolling in for work – she dropped it. Excuses were made, she said it would be too difficult, it just wasn’t the right time, blah blah blah. It was obvious though, she was just too scared that she would fail if she kept going so she chose to give up instead.

How to Fight Your Fear of Failure

Fighting isn’t really the best word for it in my opinion. I think it’s a bad idea to fight your fears, in fact, I pretty much always think it’s a bad idea to fight something that’s part of your nature. It’s too tough of a battle to really end well. Instead of fighting your fears, you need to learn to dismiss them.

As I pointed out, nowadays the physiological fear response we experience is unnecessary for 99% of the situations we feel it in. It sounds silly, but our brains don’t know that the audience isn’t going to savagely maul us if we mess up. In fact, because of our fantastic imaginations, a majority of people way, way, way overestimate the potential consequences of their actions.

We can fix that.

Next time you realize you have some dread, a gnawing fear or a deep apprehension of the future, stop and ask yourself, “Honestly, what is the worst case scenario?”. Give it some really good thought too, sit down and work it out. Think about what the absolute total worst that could happen is.

Ok, now you might be a little more scared, but bear with me. Now that you’ve come up with the worst-possible-case-doomsday-apocalypse outcome, how likely is it really to happen? Is it even that bad? What would you do if it did happen?

Now think about what probably would happen if you failed. Is it really that bad? What are you so scared of? Let’s look at a real world example.

Say you want to quit your day job and start your own business, but you haven’t yet. You’re too scared that you’ll fail and lose everything. Let’s even say you’re the sole income supporting a wife and two kids. What is the worst possible thing that could happen?

The business tanks, you have no income, you lose your house, your wife leaves you to avoid having to eat the children and you wander the streets for the rest of your life, destitute and abandoned. Then you get hit with a meteor.

Honestly though, what are the odds of that? What might really happen if you fail?

The business tanks, you support yourself on whatever savings you have until you find another 9 to 5 or try another business venture. Maybe things get so bad you have to sell your house and downsize, boo hoo. Maybe you can’t find a job and have to flip burgers for a while. Oh well. You won’t be on the streets, you won’t be starving and you won’t be dead. Why is that so scary?

If you fail, you just roll with it. Cut your losses and try something new or admit that you did your best and go find another job in whatever industry you left, or maybe somewhere else. Once you’ve actually sat down and thought things out, it’s just not that scary anymore.

Failing Before You Start

Now that you know that the outcome of actually failing – precisely what you were so afraid of – isn’t actually a big deal, it’s even worse to let fear of failure stop you from working toward your dreams.

I’m always completely amazed when people say they wish they could do something, but are too afraid of failure to start, and then get frustrated that they can’t follow their dreams. It amazes me because if you never try, all you can do is fail.

I understand completely the fear of striking out, but refusing to swing or even to step up to the plate all because you might strike out is ludicrous. In order to avoid the unpleasantness of failing, people make themselves fail from the outset by giving up.

I’m reminded of a quote from the signature of a member of a Parkour community I was a part of four or five years ago, I’m not sure who to attribute it to but it went something like this – “The only way to fail is to give up or to die, and I’m not giving up.”

The point is, as long as you’re alive and willing to keep trying, you haven’t failed yet. If that’s the case, why be so scared of failing? If giving up is the only real way to fail, why give up to avoid failure?

Getting Used to Being a Failure

If you are particularly scared of failing, I highly suggest you try this.

In the past, I used to be afraid of failure in a lot of areas. I was great at rolling with the bad stuff when it came my way, but there were a lot of opportunities that I could have taken that I passed up because I was scared of the potential consequences. Learning to look at things honestly and see how inconsequential the consequences of failure usually are helped a ton.

If you need a little more help getting over it, I suggest you try a little exercise to condition yourself to failure. Every so often, maybe once a week, find something you’re doing and allow yourself to fail at it.

It’s best to pick something inherently benign (I don’t want a flood of e-mails blaming me for failed marriages, that’s your fault) since you want to make sure there won’t be any bad consequences from the failure. Honestly, whatever you pick you’ll start to see that your failure really didn’t matter. The world is still here. No one died. Your life isn’t ruined.

After a few of these practice sessions failing, when you actual find yourself faced with something you’re scared of failing at, you can think back to those times and remember that it really isn’t such a big deal – there’s no reason to be nervous.

The only way to fail is to give up or die.

Have any of these techniques worked for you? Have you used some other way to conquer your fear of failure? Tell us about it!

Why You Should Be Grateful

Empty Bowl Project by Carabou

Don't take what you have for granted, it might not always be there.

I wholeheartedly believe that one of the best things that you can do to improve your quality of life is to learn to be grateful and appreciative.

We’ve talked about ways to improve your quality of life before, and touched on gratefulness there, but it deserves its own article.

Having a strong sense of gratefulness or appreciation is extremely important in developing an overall sense of well-being and happiness in life. All too often people find themselves losing sight of what’s really important, growing unhappy with their situation and becoming upset over everything.

Learning to be grateful helps solve all of these problems. Understanding how lucky you are to have the things that you do have often puts into perspective how inconsequential it is when you don’t get the things you want. Gratefulness lets us look at a bad situation which might otherwise really upset us and say, “You know, I’m gonna let it go. It’s really no big deal.”

Next time something bad happens to you, stop and think of the millions of people who probably are substantially worse off than you. If you’re reading this then you have electricity, an Internet connection and, presumably by extension, some money. There are countless people with none of those luxuries

Having a well-developed sense of appreciation for what you do have also keeps you from listing towards the whirlpools of consumerism. When you appreciate what you have, minimalism comes naturally and it’s easy to determine what you really do and don’t need.

The most important thing to remember is that as long as you’re still alive, it could be worse – you could be dead.

It’s optimistic to assume you’re going to get a full 100 years. You may not even get the 80 or so that citizens of most industrialized nations have come to expect. Given that fact, does it really make sense to let the bad things bother you when you could spend them being happy about what you’ve got? You have to take care to avoid complacency, which is another article in itself, but if you’ve got such a short time why spend it upset and unhappy?

Putting It Into Practice

So how do you develop a sense of gratefulness if it’s something you’re currently lacking? The first way would be to work on your sense of empathy and of objectively looking at the consequences of a situation. When something bad happens, step back for a second and think of how that compares to the suffering of people who are in genuinely life-threatening situations on a daily basis.

Consider the fact that there is an unending number of people who have died as children. Not to depress anyone, but when you compare to people who never had the chance to live long enough to have a job, let alone be fired from one, it seems kind of petty to be whiny and upset about it.

Another good way to develop a true appreciation for something is to lose it. Try going for a weekend being as minimalist as possible. Empty your fridge and flip the circuit breaker off for a day or two (though if your house has one, you may want to leave the switch to the sump pump on). Nothing will make you feel as thankful as going without running water for any appreciable amount of time.

Of course, if you’re going to try a minimalism experiment to see just how much you take things for granted, do use your head about it and don’t do anything that’s going to hurt anybody

Any thoughts on being more grateful, or good ways to learn to appreciate the things you’ve got and not take them for granted?

5 Reasons to Practice Parkour

London Parkour by JB London

Getting in excellent shape is just one benefit to parkour training.

Parkour.

If you’re not practicing it, you should be. If you are, well, then you don’t really need to be reading this do you? Go outside and have some fun.

Anyway, back to the people who are the actual targets of this article – people who don’t practice parkour. You might be wondering, “What in the world is parkour anyway?”. I’m glad you asked.

Parkour, as defined by Mark of American Parkour, is “…the physical discipline of training to overcome any obstacle within one’s path by adapting one’s movements to the environment.” Now, that’s just speaking strictly of parkour, there’s also freerunning. I’m not really going to touch freerunning for right now, since there’s a lot of debate over what ‘real’ parkour is and I don’t want to get into it here. Suffice it to say that parkour is moving over obstacles in the most fluid and efficient way possible.

Put another way, parkour is the art of making the entire world your playground.

So, why should you care enough to give it a try? I’m glad you asked that too. Here’s five reasons.

Parkour Can Be The Ultimate Fitness Plan

Without going too much into the history of it all, parkour was very heavily influenced by a man you’ve probably never heard of before named Georges Hébert. Hébert found when travelling through Africa that the people there were in a state of fitness that put the people back home to shame, even though they never followed a structured exercise routine. This lead him to develop a fitness system he called the Natural Method, where each training session would involve a variety of real world movements like running, jumping, crawling, climbing, throwing etc.

His method resulted in substantially more even body development and significantly better fitness than the methods commonly in use at the time. Parkour took some inspiration from his method, and by its nature develops the body in much the same way.

When you practice parkour you walk, you run, you sprint in bursts mixed with periods of slow movement (sound like interval training?), you vault over things, you roll, you climb, you crawl, you jump, you balance. Almost every way you can make your body move, parkour practice will find a way to make you do it.

This kind of free flowing circuit training is fantastic for your fitness level. Even without working out more, just by going out for a few regular parkour training sessions, you’ll find your strength, balance and likely even flexibility improving. Additionally, it’s all real, compound, full-body movements. These aren’t some isolationist bicep-curl-esque exercises, training for parkour prepares your body to use its fitness in real world situations.

Parkour Gives Increased Confidence

Some people suffer terribly from a lack of confidence. In most cases, it takes a lot of work and practice to build them selves up and get used to the idea of being and acting confidant.

Parkour is a natural confidence builder, as it slowly takes you from not being able to do much to being able to do things that you never would have guessed possible. When you look up at a wall that you know is higher than anything you’ve ever been able to scale before and you commit and manage to make it over, you feel like you can accomplish anything. After a while, that feeling starts to bleed out into the rest of your life.

Whenever you start feeling unconfident about something, your job, school, whatever – you can think back to the time you got over that wall, cleared that gap or landed that precision and remember that if you can do something that awesome, you can do anything.

Parkour Brings More Creativity and a Better Attitude

Parkour, in a sense, is all about the obstacles. If there were no obstacles, you couldn’t have parkour.

Psychologically, that fact starts to affect you after a while. While once you might have seen a wall, a fence or a gate as an obstruction, something that meant you shall not pass – you now see as a toy, a piece of playground equipment, a fun challenge.

It doesn’t take long, after starting to look at every physical obstacle you find in your path as a challenge to be tackled with enthusiasm, that you find yourself seeing mental obstacles in the same way. Rather than hit a problem and immediately get frustrated, you’ll find yourself excited with the prospect of a challenging problem to overcome.

Parkour also fosters creativity. The goal is to move over the obstacles in as efficient a way as possible. That usually takes some creativity on its own, but lots of people (particularly those more inclined toward freerunning) also try to clear obstacles in the most aesthetically pleasing way possible.

That means that once you get into it, you start deconstructing objects to figure out what the most efficient way to get past it would be, and how to make that look really good. Everytime you look at something you’ll be practicing your creativity.

Parkour is Extremely Fun

Maybe it’s the very fundamental, animal-like movements, maybe it’s the feeling of putting all your strength and energy into something and not holding back, maybe it’s just the intensity and the joy of flying through the air – I’m not sure what it is, but there’s something about parkour that taps into our primal nature.

Practicing parkour makes you feel like a little kid again, screaming your head off as you run from whoever was ‘it’ in a game of tag. It’s like the feeling of having an all out sprint just for the fun of it. There’s just something fantastically fulfilling about it. Not to mention addictive.

Honestly, to understand how fun it really is, you just have to go try it. I warn you though, it’s addictive.

Parkour Makes You Feel Like a Ninja

Ok, so this last reason may be a bit egotistical, but who cares? Parkour & freerunning both, aside from being wonderful exercise that will get you in fantastic shape, excellent ways to make you more confident, creative, & positive and a source of fulfilling, exuberant joy, just plain look cool.

Everyone always wanted to be a ninja. Now you can be. Well, kind of. You can feel like one. Not to mention you get to be a part of an enormous, friendly, welcoming community of like-minded individuals from all over the planet who are joined by a love of fun and personal development. Seriously, there are some great people in the parkour community.

So there you go. Five good reasons (or, maybe four good reasons and one ok one) why you should be practicing parkour. To end, just in case you’re still a little confused what all this is, check out these videos. The first is about pure, strict parkour – the other is about freerunning and acrobatic parkour. Watch them. Get pumped. Go get started.




5 Easy Ways to Improve Your Quality of Life

Checklist by Adesigna

You'll be doing yourself a big favor by checking a few of these off your list.

You’re going to hear this from me a lot, so get used to it – before long, you’re going to be dead. I don’t mean that as a threat or anything, I’ll be dead too, it’s just that we really don’t get very long to live. As a male in the U.S., ranked #36 in world life expectancy at the time of writing, I’m told I’ve got about 75 years total. At 23 years old, that means one full third of my projected life is gone already, and most of that time has been spent wasting away in compulsory schooling.

With that in mind, don’t you think it’s a good idea to try out this list of 5 easy little things that you can do to improve your quality of life for what time you do have here?

  1. Smile More – This is number one because it’s the easiest and will have a big effect not just on you, but everyone around you. Smile more. It’s not hard, and the positive effects it will have will make a noticeable difference in your life. You’ll be happier, people around you will be happier and everyone will like you more. It doesn’t just improve your quality of life, it helps improve their quality of life too. Everybody wins.
  2. Be Grateful – Appreciate what you have and don’t let it get you down when stuff goes wrong or when you can’t get what you want. Calm down, chill out and take a moment to realize that you’ve got it pretty good. Now, I’m not saying you should get complacent, but if you can read this and live in a modern industrialized nation then it’s reasonably likely you have nothing major to complain about.
  3. Go Play – I considered saying, “Get Some Exercise” instead of “Go Play”, but that sounds too much like work. Don’t get me wrong getting some physical exercise will make you happier (endorphins and such), but why stop there? Go play! I don’t mean video games either, go play a good physically active game. ‘We don’t stop playing when we get old, we get old when we stop playing’ and as over-used as that saying is its got a lot of truth to it. Taking some time for a game of Ultimate or tag will do more for improving your quality of life and well-being than you think.
  4. Get Some Sun – Sunlight is an extraordinarily powerful thing. We are built with a natural need for sunlight, to the point where not getting enough of it can cause clinical depression. Exposure to sunlight doesn’t just provide us with the ever essential Vitamin D, but also gives a natural sense of well-being and contentedness. Besides, the majority of us spend way too much time entombed indoors bathed in harsh incandescence. Get outside or buy some full spectrum lights.
  5. Be Social – Even if you’re a hardcore introvert, stepping out of your shell a little bit and socializing with people – in person, not online – will improve your quality of life more than you think. You don’t have to go crazy, but take a chance and meet someone new, or at least spend a little extra time in the good company of the friends you already have. Life is to be enjoyed, and sharing it with people you care about is one of the best ways to do that.

Now these five things may not be completely life-changing (I did say 5 easy things), but they will all make a noticeable difference in how much you enjoy the time you’ve got. In the end, that’s the important thing.

Do you have any easy changes you’ve made that have made a big improvement in the quality of your life? We’d love to hear them!

Fake Smiles to Make Smiles – How to Be Happier

Olivia's Big Smile by Sofubared

Come on, how can seeing this not make you smile?

Imagine for a moment that there were a way to make yourself a happier, more productive person. Something that could, without any harmful side-effects, literally change your brain chemistry to make you more cheerful. On top of its ability to alter your brain, it would be completely free of charge and extremely contagious – improving not only your life but the lives of everyone around you as well.

Thankfully, and as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, I’m not talking about some magical, imaginary technique. I’m talking about smiling.

That’s right, just smiling. Most people don’t realize how drastic of an effect smiling can have on us. I’m not just talking about seeing other people smile either, just the action of smiling directly affects what chemicals are released in our brains. Let’s take a look at some of the effects.

  • Increased Happiness – Most people think that a smile is just an outward expression of happiness that is the result of our brains already being made happy by something. It turns out though that it isn’t a one-way street; the brain is constantly ‘checking’ the facial muscles. When it checks and finds you smiling, it releases the same hormones (endorphins, etc.) that compel us to smile in the first place. What this means is that a smile, even a faked one, can physically make you feel happier. As a side benefit, it even helps lower blood pressure.
  • Improved Perceptions – Consciously putting a smile on your face doesn’t just make you feel good, it makes everyone else feel good too. A study conducted by Penn State University showed that when people observe someone smiling they consider them more attractive (well, duh), courteous, likable and – most interestingly – found they appeared more competent.
  • The Smile Cascade – Everyone already knows that smiles are contagious. One of the reasons for this is because we naturally mimic other people’s smiles when we see them to help determine if they are sincere or not. This mimicry causes a mild cascade effect. You smile, someone sees you smile and instinctively mimics it, that causes their brain to release endorphins which makes them happy, they smile even more and it continues. This also means the more you smile, the more often endorphins will be released in people’s brains when they see you. The more that happens the more they’ll associate you with feeling good.

So how do you best take advantage of all these benefits? It’s easy – smile more. Of course, most people can spot a forced smile when they see one, so do your best to make it as genuine as you can. The best way to do that is to imagine something that makes you really, really happy and focus on that visualization for a moment while making yourself smile. Another good trick is to picture someone else already smiling, which will naturally make you want to do the same.

Have any other tips to add or personal experiences with this technique? Let us know!

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